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For many years, I used the colors and brands of watercolor paint that my instructors used. (Interestingly, each instructor had different preferences.) There were so many different colors to choose from I was unsure why they used some colors and not others. I didn’t worry too much about their color choices when I was just starting to paint, being more focused on learning technique, but as I gained experience, I wanted to understand why we used those particular colors. Was it just a matter of personal preference, or were certain colors better for some reason? Why?
LEARNING ABOUT COLORS.
‘Color’ became more and more interesting to me. I became fascinated by how many different ways there were to mix colors from the paint that was already on my palette. There was such variety! Yet at some point, I began to feel some dissatisfaction with certain black, gray, and green paints straight from the tube, and began to prefer my own mixtures. Unlike blends that I created from mixtures of often primary colors, some of these tube paints began to appear dull, flat, uninteresting, and lifeless to me. Other tube paints looked stark, strident, unnatural and out of place in certain pictures. What a revelation! I began to notice details that I had not been aware of before. And I was starting to feel unhappy with a few of the colors on my palette.
Why did some paints, like some of the reds, greens, and browns, look so flat and dull? Everyone talks about ‘Transparent Watercolor,’ but what is it exactly? Are all watercolors transparent? And why is transparency important? How are opaque colors different from transparent colors? Where does the elusive ‘glow’ or luminescence of watercolor come from? Is it in certain pigments, or does it result from how the paint is applied? I decided to try to make my paintings glow!
As I studied and experimented, I learned more about the characteristics of pigments and how they behave. The issues were confusing! Some paints worked well in certain situations but not in others. Some colors mixed cleanly with others, but similar-appearing colors, when mixed with another color, turned into mud! Ugh! I realized that all watercolor pigments are NOT transparent or equal in intensity. All blues are not interchangeable. In fact, sometimes tubes of paint with the same name do not even contain the same pigments! How could one expect them to behave the same? And, further, some tube paints are not made from a single pigment but are mixtures of a number of pigments, each of which has its own characteristics.
HOW NOT TO MAKE ‘MUD’!
Jeanne Dobie, in Making Color Sing, describes how she makes vibrant, glowing color. She recommends transparent and pure color pigments as a base for your palette colors. To capture the ‘effect of light’ in watercolor, use transparent and single ingredient pigments! Jeanne says, “Because transparent colors permit the greatest amount of light to pass through to the paper, reflecting back to the viewer, they impart luminosity. Moreover, they remain transparent when mixed together – so there’s no mud!.. If you begin a watercolor with opaque pigments, you’ll lose the effect of light. Opaque pigments are denser and heavier, which greatly reduces the amount of light transmitted through to the paper. Because of this ‘thickness,’ an opaque pigment does not mix well with another opaque color. It only becomes thicker! If you mix two opaque pigments together, you are flirting with a muddy mixture. Should you mix three opaque pigments together, the result may be too lifeless to call a watercolor.”
Watercolor pigments are composed of several different types of materials. First, some pigments are made of ground MINERALS or EARTH. These have a tendency to float on the surface of the paper, whether transparent or not, and so may NOT be very good for mixing. (I think it is interesting that some mineral pigments are quite transparent — for example, genuine ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, raw sienna, cobalt blue, viridian, and manganese blue.) Second, some pigments are ORGANIC DYES. Third, other pigments are SYNTHETIC DYES. The dye pigments are NOT all transparent as one might expect, because some are combined with various fillers.
MY PALETTE COLOR CHANGES.
Gradually, I have added more transparent primary colors (red, yellow, blue) to my palette and reduced the number of opaque pigments. I have tried to find transparent colors made from a single pigment (i.e. ‘pure’, as Jeanne Dobie describes). I now have a wide variety of transparent red, yellow, and blue primaries which can be mixed into numerous clear variations. I chose each paint for a particular quality; while some are very similar, no two are exactly alike.
On my palette, I continue to keep some additional “occasional use” colors that are opaque, such as cerulean blue, cadmium red, Winsor Newton Payne’s gray, and burnt umber. Many greens I mix from primary colors, but I have a few transparent greens on my palette. I removed any ochres and use burnt umber with care, as they are opaque. I like the siennas because they are transparent or semi-transparent, depending on how diluted the mixed wash is. While the above earth colors look beautiful when wet, they do seem to lose their richness as they dry, appearing flat and somewhat dull. (I plan to discuss the specific colors that I have on my palette in a later blog. Stay tuned!)
Jeanne Dobie also maintains that selecting pure transparent pigments is just the start. An artist needs to learn about color relationships to use the colors successfully – color mixing could be the subject of yet another, later blog post, perhaps. And, yet, there is also a place for the opaque colors on your palette. “To complement the pretty (transparent) colors” and to enhance their jewel-like tones, you need to use more subtle, “non-brilliant mixtures.” Thus, my first discovery in the search for “GLOW” was that the glow begins with the use of transparent colors.
The second part of creating glow in a painting seems to be related to a technique called GLAZING. Most watercolor painters are aware that it is possible to paint one wash over another, a process called glazing. (The secret is to apply each wash, usually the lightest color first, to a THOROUGHLY DRY sheet of paper.) Now why would a painter want to do this? It seems like a lot of trouble! Is it worth it?
Yes, properly applied, layers of washes are what actually produce the characteristic GLOW of watercolor and a stained-glass effect that cannot be achieved by any other means. To achieve the much sought after GLOW FROM WITHIN in watercolor, an artist glazes layers of mostly transparent pigments. Pigments applied in glazes have MORE luminosity than the same colors mixed on the palette and applied in a single wash!
Once you have practiced your wash techniques and feel you are a bit proficient at them, here is the procedure for glazing: 1. Develop your glazes from transparent watercolors (eg. Indian yellow or Hansa yellow light, Winsor blue or Phthalo blue, Winsor red or pyrrol red). 2. Begin with your lightest pigment, usually a yellow. 3. Keep your washes DILUTED and transparent. 4. Make sure, VERY SURE, that all previous washes are COMPLETELY dry before a new wash or glaze is applied. 5. Use the most opaque paints toward the final stages of your painting. Using them in the initial stages runs the risk of creating mud or chalky washes. (I must give credit here to Don Rankin, who, in his book Mastering Glazing Techniques In Watercolor, gives these clear and simple ground rules for glazing.)
I now have more transparent pigments in my palette, fewer of the opaques. I try to employ the glazing technique with transparent color more often than I previously did. I like the effect! If you too are a painter who strives to find a way to have your work ‘glow from within,’ try what I have described above. See what you think, and let me know.
Where and how do I begin an art collection? Do I need a lot of money? Should I collect what is popular? How do I know what good art looks like? What is the ‘best’ style of painting to collect? Who can I trust in my search for art? Where do I find art for sale?
First of all, start small. There are no rules – there is, in fact, little regulation in the art market. Also, don’t expect to make money. Art is not made to be an object of speculation. The reward of collecting should come from your enjoyment of the art.
Markets can change. What was popular and pricey a few years ago may not be now, so collect what excites you, whether portraits, landscapes, contemporary paintings, Old Masters, or lithographs. Look for what appeals to you. Big collectors go for big names and prestige. But that is certainly not the only way to collect! Many less well-known works are just as charming and skillfully painted. One collector recommends collecting as many diverse pieces by an artist as possible so that these seemingly incongruous works, by the time your collection is mature, will provide depth and breadth.
The trick is knowing where to look. Plenty of great paintings, prints, and other pieces are out there! Art sales once revolved mainly around high-profile auctions and blue-chip gallery sales (many of which have been shrouded in secrecy and price manipulation). It can be helpful in your search if you can get to know several good gallerists who represent the artists you are trying to collect. Many galleries are prepared to negotiate terms of a sale, even agreeing to payment in installments.
Online sources of art for sale, however, are far more numerous! The website architecturaldigest.com recommends several sites for finding affordable art online: Artfinder (200,000+ pieces of original art signed by the artist), Saatchi Art (original works, including sculpture, also prints), Minted (art from independent makers/emerging artists worldwide), Tappan Collective (various emerging artists), 20X200 (provide documentation about each work and write-ups of new artists), also AHA, Paper Collective, Society 6, Lumas. And in addition, you could search on Google to find your style of art or to locate individual artists with work for sale. Search Facebook, Ebay, even Amazon.
In summary, trust your instincts in collecting art. Choose what you are immediately drawn to – art is personal! It’s okay to mix different styles or mediums, adding photos to original paintings or prints. Don’t be shy, and don’t be afraid to be different from everyone else! Feel free to do some research and learn more about what interests you. As you study, you will become more confident. The more you know about artists and their backgrounds, the more connected you’ll feel to their art. Consider purchasing art from someone whose interests and values align with yours. Have fun!
So many different watercolor art supplies are available that choosing supplies can be overwhelming when a student is just starting out. So much to choose from! Some artists suggest that you need to buy this brand and never that one. Some teachers hand out a materials list with 25 different brushes, 30 other pieces of equipment, and dozens of paint colors. Nobody seems to agree. And the costs can be astronomical! What can you do?
First, be assured that you DON’T have to buy everything at once.
DON’T BUY THE CHEAPEST.
Second, however, DON’T buy inferior equipment, whether brushes, paper, or paint, to try to save money! You need the right tools to have success in your painting. If you buy the cheapest brush you can find, for instance, because you don’t know whether you’ll like watercolor, I guarantee you will struggle with painting. Even an experienced artist will have trouble painting well with a cheap brush. It is so much easier to paint with the right tools for the job! Therefore, instead of buying lots of inexpensive materials, buy FEWER items that are BETTER quality. (You need not buy the most expensive equipment, either, as you can work up to the best quality as you go along.)
But how do you know what is ‘good’ quality? You probably can’t afford to try everything or experiment.
Below are my suggestions. I offer the ‘Bare Bones’ and ‘Extras.’ The lists are not written in stone; often I will tell you several good choices you can try. It’s fine to pick and choose – if you try something and it doesn’t work for you, try another option. After all, your goal is to make watercolors work for you. Don’t, however, give up prematurely or without giving yourself the chance to practice with these materials.
But wait! Where do you find art supplies to buy? While you can pick up some materials at local art supply stores, I LOVE to buy my supplies online! The variety offered is amazing! And prices are often cheaper online. My favorite site is jerrysartarama.com. Order online, or call in an order if you prefer (800-827-8478). Other excellent online sources include dickblick.com or cheapjoes.com, and sometimes amazon.com (although amazon can be more expensive!); the different sources often carry a slightly different selection of items, although there is a lot of overlap. (Hint: If you think you might like to continue buying art supplies, make sure to sign up to receive emails from the first three companies – they offer REGULAR sales!)
PAINT and PALETTE – The easiest and quickest option is a travel palette already filled with pans of paint. (I would recommend a Winsor-Newton Sketcher’s Pocket Box with 14 half pans for $12.98 fulfilled by Amazon from Supplier Central, or $16.97 from amazon.com.) Also recommended is Daniel Smith’s excellent, higher-quality travel palette – Sketcher Set of 6 (with 9 convenient pans for later filling) – Extra Fine Watercolor Half-Pan Set (which is available online for $35.95).
You can buy palette and paint separately also. The John Pike palette is a great option – it is very sturdy and has a cover, in case you want to paint outdoors or take your supplies to a class or workshop! (It is available from all of the above-mentioned online art suppliers. Today at jerrysartarama.com the price is $15.48; Amazon’s price is $37.20.)
Paint in tubes to fill your palette could be limited to five colors to start out, especially if you are willing to begin learning the fun of mixing your own colors. You DO NOT ever need any white or black! As you progress, you can add more varied colors. (Available from jerrysartarama.com in 5ml. tubes, I recommend either Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors – Burnt Sienna, French Ultramarine Blue, Hansa Yellow Light or Lemon Yellow, Payne’s Gray, and Quinacridone Pink costing $32.71, OR Winsor-Newton Professional Watercolors – Burnt Sienna, French Ultramarine Blue, Lemon Yellow Deep, Payne’s Gray, and Permanent Rose costing $32.23.)
BRUSHES – You don’t need to purchase a lot of brushes. Start with these four brushes: size #4 and #10 Loew-Cornell La Corneille 7020 Ultra-round brushes ($5.69 and $8.89, respectively, at jerrysartarama.com). Also purchase a 1″ Flat Loew-Cornell La Corneille 7550 wash brush ($11.79 at jerrysartarama.com). Finally, round out your first brush collection with a Creative Mark Original Scrubber #6 (today for $2.59 at jerrysartarama.com).
BRUSH EASEL – If you can afford it, get a brush easel to protect your investment in brushes. I like the Creative Mark Folding Long Handle Brush Easel (today $5.24 at jerrysartarama.com, usually $8.49).
WATERCOLOR PAPER – Paper could be one of your more expensive purchases. But remember not to buy inferior quality! If you do, you invite unnecessary frustration in your painting and dissatisfaction with your final product. For my classes, I ALWAYS use Arches 300 lb. Bright White Rough watercolor paper, which is sturdy enough NOT to buckle when wet and can withstand rough scrubbing and lifting without damage. (Arches 300lb. paper costs $64.51 for 5 sheets – or $3.23 for each 11X14″ picture – on jerrysartarama.com.)
Yet another good paper option would be an Arches Bright White Rough 140 lb. Block of 20 sheets. The 140 lb. paper is thinner and less sturdy than 300 lb., but since it is a block, the sheets are held together until you separate them after painting, so they do not buckle. (Cost would be $37.25 for a 20-sheet 140 lb. Arches Bright White Rough watercolor block sized 11X14″ at jerrysartarama.com. – or $1.87 for each 11X14″ picture.)
You will also need a PENCIL (H) for sketching lightly before painting. Along the same lines, get a good ERASER that will not scratch your paper (e.g., Factis ES20 Artists’ eraser at jerrysartarama.com for $.89). You may already have similar items.
Some type of WATER CONTAINER is a must, but you needn’t buy one unless you want to. Use a jam jar, mason jar, or any plastic container you have on hand.
You also need PAPER TOWELS, tissues, or rags to use when blotting extra paint or wetness.
‘BARE BONES’ COST.